Loss and Living Life


I have been absent from blogging for well over a year, and so after many long, contemplative hikes with my rescue dog Buddy, I decided I needed to share where I’ve been before I move to the next phase of my life as a published author.

In May 2015, my husband lost his job again. Within weeks, he had a slight foot drop, his left foot. Minor, but it gave us both pause. At times his balance seemed off. If Buddy tugged too hard on his leash, he would sometimes pull John to the ground. I took John to our PCP, who sent us to an orthopedic specialist. John’s MRI showed a ruptured disk in his spine, as well as a narrowing of his neck. We were facing extensive spinal and neck surgery, with long recoveries. We had no clue something else was at play.

I insisted on a second opinion, because the first doctor wanted to operate immediately. My gut told me to hold off, and to push for more tests, more opinions, because John presented with another troubling symptom. Fasciculations, brief, spontaneous contractions that affect a small number of muscle fibers, causing flickers of movement under his skin. It was like watching microscopic worms burrow up and down his arms.


We sought out more specialists, prepared for our youngest daughter’s upcoming wedding. But when I watched John trip on a sideway in Boston, unable to catch himself to break his fall, I knew. My family knew, too. They quietly told me they suspected a neurological disease was at play. Beyond the first specialist, no one would operate on John’s neck and/or spine. And yet, John clung to this notion that an operation would cure all, telling me how happy he was going to be once his body was repaired. He would stay up late at night, applying for jobs.

He only fell again, and again, and again.

But with the aide of a walking stick, in mid-September 2015, John managed to walk our daughter down the path to be married. I saw in the eyes of my family that day, their fears that we were dealing with something much larger than what could be fixed on an operating table. And so we all, myself included, decided to not share our concerns with John. We let John have hope, for as long as we could. We let him believe that the next specialist might approve his spine and neck surgery. We hoped that our suspicions were wrong.

On Dec. 8th, 2015, my younger sister and I took John to MGH in Boston, where within hours he was diagnosed with ALS. At the time, I thought it was the worst day of my life, but I didn’t know what lay ahead.

John deteriorated at a rate that no one could predict. Less than 3 months after his diagnosis, he lost the full use of his legs. Shortly after that, he was dependent on others for all self-care, no longer able to slowly lift a spoon to his mouth to feed himself.

Many people know our story, through what I’ve shared on Facebook, etc. The medical community all projected that John would live for 3-5 years. Very quickly, I knew this would not be the case. And so in December 2015, I started a new role as a fierce and loving advocate. It seemed like every few days I was dealing with a new crisis in terms of John’s health. My goal, my daily focus, was to keep him safe, feeling loved, and see that he had quality of life. I checked off what was doable on his wish list. I took him to San Diego to say goodbye to his mother, got him a ride in his favorite car (Austin Healey), and I organized a celebration of John’s life, just in the nick of time.

DSCN0501 (2).JPG

Less than six months after his ALS diagnosis, my husband was at peace. No longer suffering from his daily muscle spasms that left him screaming in the night.

While I was strong throughout this journey of caring for and watching my husband suffer up to the end, it was the grandchildren that would break me down. Those were the moments where I had to fight to not crumble to the floor. Moments such as when 4 y.o. Landon was begging his dying PopPop to wake up so he could play trains with him.

And so, when it was my turn to speak at John’s memorial this past July, I focused on the children in his life, and on how John inspired us all.


Below is how I closed my tribute to John.

Our 4 y. o. grandson lost his best buddy and fellow train lover. After John died, Landon told everyone PopPop was happy. “He’s a zombie train engineer now, driving dead people around,” Landon insisted. A fan of zombie shows, John would have loved this image.

But then Landon asked about the box. The box with John’s ashes. Which is when Landon noticed that Buddy, our rescue dog, was sad too. In his own 4 y. o. way, Landon tried to soothe the dog’s grief. Lifting one of Buddy’s ears, he whispered, “It’s okay, Buddy. PopPop’s not coming home, Buddy. He lives in a box now.”

The box.

The box always comes up with Landon’s other questions: “Is PopPop just dust now?” “So he can never be PopPop again?”

When Landon’s mother asked him how this made him feel, he said, “I just really miss PopPop is all.”

But here’s the thing, we can all rant about how horrible ALS is or we can look to the good that grew from this experience. We had the opportunity to say goodbye. In addition, John had the opportunity to see how many people love him, how many lives he unknowingly touched. How many lives he is going to touch with his invaluable contribution to ALS research.  

John is gone. Yet we are given the chance to be thankful for what we have, that we may take for granted, day after day. We must be sure to use our voices to say what we want to before we lose the ability. And use our legs and arms and minds to accomplish good things and go places we might not otherwise go. We have the opportunity to live our lives to the fullest. What a gift that is.

Every day, I’d ask John what I could do for him. His answer was always the same. “I want to stand up and walk. I want to jump and skip and run.” In late May, he told me he was looking forward to the summer, to root beer floats, to seeing friends and family, to watching cool cars from the second floor balcony.

John wanted to live. He died six days later.

Despite his suffering, John was always grateful. It’s a lesson I don’t take lightly. He would always thank people for changing him, washing him, moving him, feeding him, even when he no longer recognized lifelong friends, his nurses and aides, and even his beloved dog, Buddy. 

Grateful. Humble. That was my husband.

So here’s to you, my Brave MacLeod, may you rest in peace.

And in the words of a four year old, I just really miss you is all.

P. S. – A heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported our family throughout this difficult journey.

P. S. S.  – I’m okay, John. I hope you are too. xo

The Importance of Being Present

SONY DSC“Red moon,” he said,

his two-year-old hand reaching for mine

in the dark.

As urgently as my granddaughter

grabbed my arm, earlier that day.


For her, it was the return

of the hummingbirds.



SONY DSCShe’d spotted a female

resting on a high branch,

a potential mate preening

his feathers nearby.

Our clothesline, his stage.



SONY DSCThen . . . a flash

of iridescent red,

high-pitched squeaks,

beating wings that

skirted our hair.


as abandoned homework




on a breeze.


SONY DSCWe chased it, laughing.


If not for children

reminding us to be present,

how many miracles of life

would be overlooked?


The insect in a daylily.


Shadows in the woods.



The beauty of a half-dead

Japanese maple tree

clinging to life.

Its unfurling apple-peel like leaves

shimmering in the sun.


Do our heads always need to be down?

Our brains wired and ready

for instant response

to Facebook notifications,

e-mails, texts, twitter updates?





Look. Up.

Find beauty.

Give a child your full,

undivided attention.





And so we set aside homework

to wonder at hummingbirds.

Delayed bedtime

to gaze at a brilliant full moon,



shrouded in a milky

red-and-blue veil.


“Look, Grandma!” he said,

his small hand swallowed

in mine.


Clouds shifted; the moon disappeared.


SONY DSCBut not the moment.

The moment of just



He ran down the driveway.

“Moon is gone! GONE!”



I raced after him,

swept him into my arms,

guided his tiny arm toward the sky.

“Watch and wait,” I whispered.


Together, we silently anticipated–

not a ding or a chirp or a tweet

but the reappearance

of an unreachable golden ball

nestled in the night sky.

A ball my grandson called “Red Moon.”


Yes, we need to be brave

in our writing,

but we must also seek the courage

to be present.

A Writer’s Plea to the Neighborhood Squirrels

DSC00057Dear Mr. Squirrel,

Dear Mr. Squirrel and your girlfriend,

Dear Mr. Squirrel, your girlfriend, and your overly-curious offspring,

Dear Mr. Squirrel’s Entire Immediate Family, Extended Family, and Furry Friends,

I am a writer. I like to write early every morning. I like quiet at this time. No TV blaring. No lawn mowers rumbling and roaring. No uppity, clanking, rocking washing machines. No fighting cats. No barking dog. No ringing phone. No cell phone alerts that I have a new text or a new email or a Facebook notification. No wild creature disturbances.

DSC03831Which brings me to you, Mr. Squirrel, and your ever-growing community, which is also responsible for the recent destruction of my husband’s shed. Yes, we noticed the plastic siding torn from the sides of the building, the same plastic being used in your massive nests in our trees. You and your furry friends are also the reason we must restock bird seed on a daily basis. I will need to sell a book solely to support your current lifestyle in our yard.

Now I understand that you are hungry, and that you and your buddies view our property as a promising source of ongoing food. I understand that it is your nature to embrace perseverance. I admire this quality. Writers need to embrace a path of perseverance. Except when that path is riddled with noise and squirrel-influenced interruptions.

SONY DSCYes, our aged dog barks more frequently due to his recent loss of hearing. But you egg him on with your clever squirrel acrobatics: dangling from the tops of our squirrel-proof bird feeders. Leaping through the air from my husband’s woodpile, only to now plunge to the ground since he’s set it further away from the feeder after seeing my photographs.

Do you give up? No, of course not! Why should you? You’re a squirrel, and now your entire community is copying you. I might as well supply you with colorful costumes, a trampoline, and a tightrope. I can invite the media or shoot a video for YouTube, and then continually check my stats. Not happening. Though our granddaughter is nothing less than thrilled by this prospect and has designed tickets she wants me to print out so she can sell them to our neighbors.

SONY DSCI don’t have time to host a circus of squirrels in my backyard.

I’d rather write.

So for the past few weeks, I’ve kept the door to my writing room shut, put up a BIRD FEEDING ZONE sign outside, and tried to convince myself that Old Dog was not barking incessantly.

Until today.

Today, I heard a banging on my front door. It sounded like a person knocking. So I stopped mid-paragraph in an important revision, and headed down the hall, into the living room. There was an edge of anticipation. I am expecting a number of books. Books I am anxious to read.

I opened the front door and looked straight ahead.

No delivery person.

I looked down.

SONY DSCNo package left on the ground.

No anxiously awaited books.

Only two squirrels, one of which I presume was you, Mr. Squirrel.

And when I refused to invite you inside, not just because the dog was going nuts upon seeing your face pressed against the glass, you sat down. You stared at me, you and your friend or brother or sister or spouse or offspring. And then, as if you blew on a little whistle to call in your troops, squirrels imploded onto our front deck, grabbing our white railing. I watched you spring to the edge of our picture window, and then swing into our window bird feeder with your not-so-little friend.

SONY DSCTwo squirrels cannot squeeze together in the feeder. It is not a circus clown car.

And I did not appreciate watching my expensive bird feeder split in half as you two Numskulls forced your way free and crashed the feeder to the ground.

Lastly, it seems as if you have an identity crisis. You have taken to lounging in our porch chair for lengthy squirrel siestas, after which you drink from the hummingbird feeder. Which makes Old Dog bark until he passes out.

SONY DSCYou are not a hummingbird, Mr. Squirrel.

Please relocate immediately.


A children’s writer seeking peace and quietDSC03813SONY DSC


What Makes You Grateful?

As a writer for children, I am used to having a new character’s voice come to me at any time of the day or night. I may be dreaming or driving. Bathing or taking a walk. Sometimes, I am working at the toy store, where a conversation with a young child can easily spark an idea.

But never has a project spoken to me, at least in the way that the Look For the Good Project has. It started with a newspaper article I read in our local paper. I recognized the photo of Anne Kubitsky, who I met this past May when we were both honored with a 2011 New Voices in Children’s Literature: Tassy Walden Award. She was the winner in the illustrated picture book category. What a treat to hear her voice read Graycie’s Catch. And what an honor to see her accompanying illustrations. Anne captivated the audience with her heartfelt illustrations, and her obvious love for kindness. (I have always had a soft spot for whales.)

I cut out the article and posted it near my desk. With Christmas approaching, I hurried to finish photo projects for my girls’ gifts. My time was limited; I was behind in everything. Yet, I could not stop thinking about Anne and the whale and her vision for a community art project that would become part of a traveling exhibit, featuring postcards from all over the world in which people of all ages state what makes them grateful.

My father would have loved this project and perhaps this is why the idea of it tugged at my heart. Even in pain, he would always stop to be thankful: thankful for the clouds, the comical behavior of a tiny chipmunk, the love of his family, the opportunity to speak to a grandchild or his great-granddaughter, and the ability to express himself through his writing. My father always appreciated the warmth of another’s hand, a stranger’s smile and compassion. A clean pair of sheets. Socks on his cold feet. His thinning hair being brushed. A small window so he could watch the birds outside.

The more I thought about Anne’s vision, the more grateful I was for my family, especially while I poured over photos at CVS, waiting behind a woman who had left her coupons in the car. I told her there was no need to apologize, even though it was nearly midnight and I had worked for ten hours at the toy store. She went to her car for her coupons and her bonus bucks, and when the total was finally tallied, she needed to spend 98 cents more to be able to use her CVS bucks.

“I am so sorry to hold you up,” she said.

“Relax, take your time,” I told her, studying a photo of my youngest dressed as Santa at the age of six months. (I had taped cotton balls to a bib to use as a beard.)

“Just buy some candy,” said the clerk.

“I don’t eat candy, though my dad does, but only one kind.” The woman perused the candy selection, not finding what she was after. She became flustered and then . . .

“Perfect! I found it.” She held a bag of Skittles in her hand.

My father’s favorite candy.

I believe his spirit is out there, watching over his family, nudging us when we need that extra push, and especially while our family struggled to get through our first Christmas without him.

This encounter was my father nudging me.

He would have been so grateful for that bag of Skittles, and so I contacted Anne to see how I could help with the project, because I believe in her message: the importance of reflecting on what is good.

My father taught me this, and I am forever grateful for his lessons. Every day I follow his example and find beauty in this world. Beauty that makes me stop whatever I am doing to wonder, and to be thankful for the smallest of miracles: the extraordinary within the ordinary. In this post, as with others, I share some of my photos, including the grateful postcards sent by my five-year-old granddaughter.

What about you, what makes you grateful? Ask yourself, ask your children, ask your friends. Ask a stranger. Spread the word and send a postcard. Send two. Write something. Draw something. Reflect on what is good. As Anne likes to say, “You are invited to write/ paint/ draw a glimmer of gladness on a postcard.”

The project’s link is www.lookforthegoodproject.org. There you will see a sample of many of the inspirational cards being received. Press links are included here: www.lookforthegoodproject.org/about

Postcards are needed by the 15th of January, though any received after that will become part of the exhibit. (You can mail multiple cards in one envelope to save individual postage). The premier show will be held in New London, CT on January 28th  at the Custom House Maritime Museum. I hope to see you there!

I have a template for three postcards per sheet that you can print on cardstock and cut up. Let me know if you would like a copy emailed to you. I always keep a handful in my purse to share as needed.

Happy New Year to all, and may you find what makes you grateful in this world. Be thankful. Peace.

P. S. – Dad, I miss you. Love you always, Betsy







How Writing Can Heal

Do you know the feeling when something wonderful is brewing? Something that will lead you to the heart of a story that you thought had promise, but the potential was yet to be discovered?

These past two months, writing has helped me grieve the recent loss of my father.  I refrained from blogging to focus on my work. I even forced myself to rise earlier than the sun each morning, so that I could write in peace. Not a small feat if you know me well. Having to get out of bed early and assure that my two daughters were awake for school was torture to me.

Now I write before the sun first appears, for up to four hours, undisturbed–except for our yellow tabby that slyly inches across my writing couch and thinks I don’t notice his paw reaching over to my laptop until he plops halfway across my body and the keyboard.

I scoot Joey away and write whatever comes to mind. Or welcome new voices that have popped up in the recent days, or revisit an unfinished manuscript. (In the past month, I have written two picture books without thinking about them ahead of time. In a way, they wrote themselves, one morning between my first cup of coffee and lunch.)

In this same vein, my younger middle-grade protagonist, E. B. Louise, returned to my world one morning at 5:45 am. Still curled beneath my covers, I was not ready for fall mornings, when it is too cold to get out of bed because the heat has not yet kicked in, and the thought of having to race across a wood floor in bare feet to use the bathroom made me shiver. I decided to test the strength of my bladder and stay beneath the comforter.

E. B. Louise started to yak, yak, yak at me, and then it felt like a heavy encyclopedia had been dropped on my head.

You know,” she said, while I rubbed the not-real swelling knot on my forehead, my covers pulled to my chin. “You are not paying attention to me and I need to finish my story.”

Let me tell you, if my dad were still alive, I would have called him for advice–right that very moment, even though he was not a morning person. He preferred to write after midnight.

“I’m stuck,” I said and pulled the covers over my head.

Get unstuck.”

“Can’t you see that I am sleeping?”

Makes no difference to me,” said E. B. Louise.

As much as I love the darn kid, she does not give up. I think this makes me love her even more.

I slipped on a fuzzy bathrobe, poured myself a cup of coffee, and then planted my bum in my writing chair. While my computer warmed up, I watched a bird peck at the corner of my window. Peck. Peck. Peck. With the E. B. Louise document open, I stared at the words.

Nothing happened.

I glanced up at my dad’s Pinocchio collection that now sits on the top shelf of my bookcase, and this is when the kid started to yak again, though she sounded like me.

You know,” began E. B. Louise, “when you start to shake, mostly in your belly, like you did right before you learned you got the part of Maria in West Side Story, it means something wonderful is about to happen. Do you remember that feeling, the same one you are having now?”

I nodded, feeling ever so crazy, and wondered if I needed to find a good therapist before lunch rolled around, possibly breakfast.

Instead, I sat there and listened to the kid, until a distraction was called for, because my head was spinning. Clearly, I was not fully awake. And I preferred—this early in my day—to not feel crazy. So I lay on the couch in my writing room and opened to the first page of Clementine and the Family Meeting, because I needed to worry about someone else, and exactly what was this family meeting about? (I admit to loving Clementine by Sara Pennypacker possibly a little too much.)

So I was worrying about Clementine, and her brother Bok Choy or Brussels Sprout or Cabbage (whatever his name is at any given time of day), as well as trying to ignore E. B. Louise and  . . .

Then I heard my dad talking. “You need to rewrite the E. B. story in first person.”

Well, I thought, I already have a lot going on today, and who knows what Clementine will learn at this family meeting and I am not sure how I am going to react, and to be honest, I am exhausted from being awoken out of sleep by an encyclopedia (not literally) being dropped on my noggin.

I think, at this point, the Blue Fairy winked at me. But before I could dash for the phone book to look up Therapists For Those Who Are Mourning and Slightly Confused About The Lines of Reality, inspiration tugged at me. Hard enough, that I put a bookmark in the newest novel about Clementine and returned to the document at hand.

I began to rewrite in first person, and suddenly it all made sense. E. B. Louise bounced onto the page, and within the first paragraph, she had me.

Why hadn’t I seen this before?

Do you know the feeling of standing up to your ankles in the ocean and then a huge wave hits you and you are pulled under water, which scares you, because you can’t swim, but you find yourself laughing at the exhilaration of the unexpected moment?

This is how it felt when after weeks and weeks of missing my dad, I remembered what it was like to lose myself in writing for children.

The wave hit me hard, and the joy of dancing with words and images, knowing I was creating something wondrous, rushed back. Though it is hard to define, you feel it in your core; your belly quivers.

E. B. Louise struggles with her own loss: the loss of her beloved grandmother. Suddenly this child was showing me the world through her eyes, and how she was coping; her undying love for her  too-small elephant slippers, and how truly funny and unique she is. (My dad saw the very beginning of this piece, when I only had a voice that had come to me while raking leaves outside.)

He said, “You know, the slippers are her story.” How right he was.

I have been trying to tell this story of hers, when all along, I should have handed E. B. Louise the reins, sat back, and let her speak, so I did exactly that.

E. B. Louise talked so fast, I could barely keep up. I typed and typed, remembering how much I love spending time with her, and more importantly, what it felt like to laugh.

I even heard my father’s laughter. Musical. Rich. Filled with playful delight and joy.

Two pages of revisions done, my fingers paused on the keyboard; I looked up at Pinocchio and Geppetto. The Blue Fairy and Jiminy Cricket.

I took Pinocchio off the top shelf and twisted the figure, as if to make him dance, remembering how much joy it gave my father. These beloved Pinocchio figures, including Mickey Mouse, once adorned his writing space, and now sit in mine. He gave them to me when I helped pack up his many manuscripts into boxes, that now remain undisturbed in my house. Until the time is right and I am strong enough to open them.

The figures remind me of my father’s spirit, his passion for writing. 

They remind me of the promise I made before he died.

They remind me that characters need to feel real, as real as the boy Pinocchio becomes, because children, our readers, deserve no less than our very best.

In the early morning, I feel the most connected to my father’s wondrous spirit. Outside the world remains silent and dark, and the owls still call out to me. But inside my writing space, with Pinocchio cheering me on, I am creating, all the while surrounded by my father’s wisdom and guidance, his belief in my abilities as a writer.

Not only have I remembered what it feels like to laugh, I have remembered how writing makes me feel alive.

And I am grateful.

P. S. I’m okay, Dad. I can take it from here.

Life Does Not Stop

Life does not stop when your father dies. Even though you want it to, because it feels like it should. Just long enough so you can find your breath and assimilate the phone call from a stranger—acting as nicely as they can—who tells you your father passed and that they are very sorry. You thank the person you’ve never met, hang up the phone and cry. Cry until you make yourself stop so you can call your sisters, your brother, your mother, and your children.

No one answers their phone, not that it would make any difference because you might not hear them; inside your ears there is pounding and throbbing. Like a beating heart working overtime.

And really, how do you tell them? How do you tell them what you know? How do you tell them so they won’t hurt, like you are now?

You dial. Hit end. Hit redial. Hit end. Dial. Hit end. Redial. Pace. Dial again. Five minutes pass. Ten. Fifteen.  Pounding in the ears. Busy signals. Voice mail messages. Pounding.

Then everything around you speeds up, and finally your youngest daughter answers her cell and the crying starts all over again and your words are inaudible, but she gets it. She gets it; she gets how much you want to take your granddaughter to school (it is your day to do so), but you can’t, even though you want to. So life will feel the same. Like nothing has changed.

Yet, with one phone call from a stranger, everything has changed.

You go into survival mode, drop your uneaten toast into the garbage, sip your cold coffee, spit it out, dial another number. Dial. Hit end. Redial. Hit end. Busy signals. Voice mail messages. Pounding, pounding, pounding.

You decide to try your brother-in-law’s cell and it rings and rings, and when you are about to give up, he says “Hello.” After you tell him the news, there is silence and your ear throbs, throbs, throbs, and, “Yes,” he will find your sister, who is at school having an important conference with one of your nieces.

Life does not stop when a parent dies.

Now you try to reach your brother, your other sister, your daughter, who is expecting a baby—a great-grandchild who your father will not be around to see born, though he dreamed of the moment, as he dreamed of living long enough to hold a book in print, written by you.

Within the hour, your brother (in between flights) calls you. And you tell him, and it feels as if you have yanked away the ground beneath him and you are too far away to lift him to safety. That same unstable ground shakes beneath your feet, and you keep trying to reach the others, and soon, you do. All except your mother, because she made a promise the night before to visit your father early that morning, and when you call someone to look out the window to see if her car is still in the parking lot, the person notices her driving away.

She is on her way to visit your father not knowing he has died.  

Quickly, so quickly, you and your siblings convene over the phone. Who can stop her? Who can we reach on a moment’s notice to intercept our mother? One sister calls the minister, who says, “Yes, I am on the way,” and gets off the phone, so she can hurry, hurry, hurry.

And then you wait. You wait for fifteen minutes, hoping and praying the minister will get to the assisted living in time. Twenty minutes pass, then thirty, and your body is shaking because you do not know what is happening in North Carolina.

Finally, your sister calls to tell you that the minister arrived just as your mom was parking the car, and that she will stay with her for however long she needs.

You can breathe, you can breathe, you can breathe . . . until your cell phone rings. The caller ID shows:  Dad calling. You see your father’s picture, and for a second, maybe two, you wonder if this is some nightmare, so you answer the phone “Hello?” and all you hear is sobbing.

The sound of your mother sobbing breaks your heart and you want to take all the pain away, but you can’t, and that knowledge fills you with helplessness. Such helplessness.

Life does not stop for the death of a loved one.

Survival mode kicks in and you focus on making a list: How many people are coming? How many cars are needed? How many hotel rooms?  Flights are booked. Calls begin again as you exchange itineraries for the first wave of arrivals: the four siblings. With luck, all four will arrive within thirty minutes of one another, coming from all parts of the country. Just after midnight.

Yet, it is not soon enough, because your mother is alone. She is alone with the news, and she is brave, so brave. When she calls again, you are pulling your closet apart to find a black dress and there is no black dress, so you lean back against the pile of clothes on your bed to listen to your mother, because she needs you to, and all you can think about is how far away you are. How far away all of the family is, and that nothing, nothing can get anyone there sooner. Not even a prayer.

The crack in your heart widens, and you wonder how and if it can ever be healed.

It becomes too difficult for your mother to talk, so you begin to pack, reminding yourself to bring a Mickey Mouse with you, because your father loved Mickey Mouse and Judy Collins and collecting miniature circus trains and his children and grandchildren and great-grandchild. And your mother.

The phone does not stop ringing, and after taking your grandchild to school, your youngest daughter comes to hold you, and then make you go to a restaurant so you can eat some food. Otherwise, she knows you won’t eat. For her, you nibble on a few bites of egg and bring the rest home to your husband.

You arrive at the airport to  learn that your flight is delayed for over an hour and there is little chance of making your connection at Dulles Airport: a flight on which your sister is also booked.

“Tomorrow, we can get you on a flight tomorrow,” someone tells you.

“No,” you say. “I need to be with my family tonight. Please, my father died this morning.” You can see in a person’s eyes when they want to help you, but they can’t. You decide to take a chance with the original flight. Perhaps your sister will ask them to hold the plane.

Perhaps is not a promise.

Your plane pulls into gate A 6 at 10:12; your connection leaves at 10:20 at gate D 18. You stand in the back of the plane, luggage ready. The flight attendant has given you directions to the D terminal ahead of time, but you are unsure. Other passengers have offered different directions. At 10:17, you are on the jet way. You begin to run, pushing one suitcase in front, pulling one suitcase behind you. There is an escalator ahead, and as soon as you get on, the suitcase behind you twists and you try to grab it and you fall. There is no one around to help. The escalator levels out and you look for a sign for D terminal and see that the arrows point you to a down escalator. You think about the bags and falling again, and you run for the elevator. And you wait and wait and wait and then the doors open. A person slips beside you. They ask if you are okay, because you are clearly out of breath.

And then they tell you that you’ve gone the wrong way.

It is 10:21 pm. Has the plane taken off? Will you find D 18, only to learn you’ve been left behind? You don’t think about this, you follow the new directions, go up an escalator (more carefully this time), down an escalator. Find a United employee, ask them to please, please call gate D 18  to tell them you are coming.

“That plane has left,” they say.

No, you think, it has to be there, my father has died and I need to see my sister. I need to be with my sister. Determination sets in and you run in clogs towards an elevator after you find an employee pushing a wheelchair and she can barely speak English, but she tells you to follow her. She is heading for C 16 and from there you can reach the D terminal.

Your phone rings: an automated message from United that you have been rebooked to take a flight out the following day at 9:45 am.

You think no, no, no, and look at the clock on your cell: 10:28 pm. It is the last time you check the time because it just makes your stomach hurt. And really, if the plane has left, what is there for you to do and where can you go?

At terminal C, you thank the woman and sprint. You wish you weren’t wearing clogs, but it’s too late. Your calves cramp, your arms are sore, and you feel like you are running in slow motion. You pass gate after gate, until you see D 1. You see hope. Perhaps, you think.

Perhaps is not a promise, but can suggest possibility.

Your mouth gapes open and you breathe so loudly, sucking in air to keep moving, even when your body can no longer be pushed. You hear, over the loud-speaker, someone calling for assistance at D 18, and at the same time, you see a plane to your left, lifting up towards the sky. You know your sister is on the plane, now in the air, and you worry about how distressed she must be. Or did she stay behind, and is that why assistance is needed? You begin to worry about her and the fact that she just had surgery the week before.

Gate D 10. . . D 11 . . . D 12 . . . Why do you keep going? You keep going for your sister, and because maybe, just maybe, the plane you just witnessed wasn’t the United flight that should have left seventeen minutes ago.

Gate D 14 . . . Gate D 15 . . . Your chest is tight, your body slows down, and you are so close and you gasp in air to keep breathing and . . .

You see her. Your sister is  running towards you, her arms open wide. She grabs a suitcase and tells you to hurry.

The kindness of strangers is a powerful thing.

That night, a single man, against the opinions of all others, would not let the United flight leave without me. Because of him, our four siblings were able to meet up after midnight at the RDU Airport where we wrapped our arms together to form a circle of grief, while around us life went on.

When your father dies, life does not stop; planes are not delayed for the benefit of one passenger.

Though, on this day, a plane was held, because the kindness of a stranger prevailed. 

The pilot was able to make up most of the lost time–all but six minutes.

Not a single passenger complained as I made my way to the back of the aircraft. You remain strangers to me, but I thank you. I thank you for your understanding nods. Your patience.

On September 22, 2011, our family lost a precious gift: Edward H. Devany.

I love you, Dad, forever and always.

P. S. I’m okay, Dad. I’m okay.

What I am Learning in Idaho

Don’t rely on your cell phone to determine the actual time in Boise because you will wake up to:

1. Read the time as 7:25 a.m. on your phone.

2. Panic because the girls need to be awake by 7 a.m. for school.

3. PANIC because you have failed your sister on your first day of being in charge of the twins.

4. Turn on the lights in the girls’ bedroom, then yell, “We’re late, we’re late! Get up, get dressed. HURRY!”  

5. Be unprepared for the madness that will ensue, which will include crashing into one another as all three people simultaneously rush for the bathroom, after which  there will be tripping, scrambling for shoes and socks, and then the dog will get involved by barking incessantly.  

6. Suddenly remember—in your state of being half asleep and somewhat disoriented—that you haven’t figured how to temporarily change your cell phone’s clock (the only clock in your room, and to your knowledge, the only clock in that level of the house) to reflect the local time of 5:30 a.m.

7. Inform your nieces that maybe the time is earlier than you thought, and isn’t it a good thing they aren’t going to miss their ride and be late to school!

8. Laugh.

9. Realize you are the only person laughing at 5:30 a.m. Barking does not count.

10. Ask your niece to—just in case—check the time.  “Are you kidding, Aunt Betsy!” says the one niece after finding her watch hidden under a pile of school papers on her desk.

11. Second niece says, “Now what do we do? We’re dressed for school.”

12. Aunt says, sleepily, “Everybody, go back to bed, including the dog.”


Don’t Forget About the Automatic Sprinklers

1. If you happen to wake up early in a panic over the girls being late for school (and it is actually only 5:30 in the morning in Boise), at least grab the morning paper—the paper your sister asked you to save so she and her husband can read when they return in a week.

2. If instead you fall back asleep (after waking at 5:30 a.m.) and don’t pick up the morning paper before the sprinklers turn on, and the newspaper kid hasn’t put the paper in a plastic bag, so that it gets thoroughly soaked, consider # 3.

3. Bribery

4. When you open the front door because the girls’ ride is coming and the day’s newspaper lies across the front walk like a soggy, chewed-up plastic dog toy alongside yesterday’s newspaper (in a plastic bag), remind the girls how fun it is to run through a sprinkler. And wouldn’t that be refreshing to do? Like right now?

5. When neither girl responds, ask barking dog.

6. When dog looks up at you as if to say “Who do you think you are and where is my breakfast? And look, there is a quail I can chase!” consider # 3 again.

7. Remind the girls that you have no idea how to turn off the automatic sprinkler and you are still in your pajamas, and do they want their friend and friend’s mother to see their aunt outside wearing wet pjs that say Need Coffee Now while holding a cup of coffee, dripping wet?

8. When both girls raise their hand, agree to whatever they say, even if it means taking them to Panda Express for dinner that evening. Or worse, the mall.

9. After one niece turns off the sprinkler to allow second niece to pick up The Soggy Mess, thank them.

10. Thank them again while waving goodbye. Promise to pick them up on time.

11. When one niece says, “Oh goodie, that means you’ll pick us up at 1:15 instead of 3:15!” tell them you are headed to Verizon as soon as it opens so that the cell phone clock can be changed.

12. Shut the door. Pour another cup of coffee. Take a deep breath.

13. Realize dog is not in the house.

14. Panic.

15. Find dog outside, now wet from the backyard sprinkler system.

16. Feed dog. Ask dog for forgiveness.

17. Settle into porch chair. Put feet up. Soak in the view of Boise’s foothills. Ask Buddha for guidance, and when wet dog tries to jump in your lap, promise the dog leftovers from Panda Express.

18. Read. Look forward to another beautiful sunset (photos coming!). Write and write and write.

19. Be thankful for the opportunity to write!